We showed that this is clearly confirmed in the Scriptures, this fellowship being the theme of the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation. In all doctrines koinonia with God is the ultimate object expected, the doctrines serving only as tributaries to this main stream.
When there is true fellowship with God, true unity will come naturally of itself--if no man-made barriers are raised. Therefore, we must receive one another simply on the ground of a mutual fellowship with God in living union with Christ--this is the essence of the true Ekklesia and here alone is the pathway to the unity of all Christians.
The Question of Doctrine
The conclusion that fellowship with Christ is the center of Christianity may give rise to a problem in the mind of some Christians concerning the place of the doctrines of Christianity. For example, take the doctrine of the Cross of Jesus, or salvation by the blood of Christ. Some will say, "Is not the important doctrine of salvation through the Cross being neglected?" or, "Can anyone be saved without redemption by the Blood?" Since this doctrine was the foundation of the Reformation, such questions are natural and justifiable. However, I believe the following points, when plainly realized, will clear away these questions.
First, faith, as the Scripture presents it, is not faith in this or that doctrine, but faith in the person of the crucified and risen Christ. And such faith in the Lord Jesus is nothing but this fellowship with Him, by the Spirit who indwells believers. It is not just a conviction but an established relationship.
The death of Jesus Christ was the essential basis for the forgiveness of sins, because "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Heb. 9:22). But the necessity of the death of Christ as ransom for our sins was the concern of God, "to prove . . . that He Himself is righteous and that He justified him who has faith in Jesus" (Rom. 3:26).
Throughout history men came to faith in the Savior-God before He revealed fully how He would accomplish the salvation He offered. Abraham was justified by faith, the Israelites expressed their faith in Jehovah through the ceremony He prescribed, Jesus granted many sinners forgiveness before He died--in all these cases, and many others, the atoning death of Christ was undoubtedly understood in the mind of God as the basis of forgiveness. But those whose sins were forgiven were trusting the Redeemer Himself, without knowing some method or theory of redemption.
Faith is fellowship with God in Christ on the basis of blood-bought redemption. It is not knowledge or acceptance of the doctrine.
It is true that only through the teaching of the death of Christ as the great price of our redemption do we come to understand the immeasurable depth of God's love for us. The more deeply we realize His love, the more firm will be our conviction that our sins are forgiven, the greater will be our love towards God and the closer our fellowship with Him will become. Knowing God, who is love, we will naturally express Him to others in terms, of our experience of redemption through His shed blood.
But there are many whose consciousness of sin is not yet deep enough to appreciate this doctrine of redemption, or whose background makes full understanding of it difficult. Also, there may be some who have been hindered by the dead orthodoxy of those who, professing to believe this doctrine, live a life little different from those who have no faith.
The death of Christ is necessary for the forgiveness of sins, but our understanding of it is not necessarily a condition of salvation.
At the last judgment the Judge is not going to be so concerned about the doctrinal confession of those before Him as whether or not they submitted to Christ and obeyed His will. Jesus taught that many who are trusting their correct doctrinal statement or their thoroughly evangelical work will find themselves utterly disowned--"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter to the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy Name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Matthew 7:21-23).
To the Judge of the living and the dead, theological understanding and doctrinal correctness will have no importance--their heart obedience will have revealed whether they really had faith in God. The Lord will judge men solely by what they are and did, not by what they knew and confessed, except as the confession reveals the heart.
The shed blood of Christ is the means through which every true Christian comes into the living union fellowship with God. But some may depend upon this means without understanding the meaning of it. They may trust 'the One who saves" without comprehending all He does in the work of salvation. Fellowship with God is possible for all who, repenting of their sins and submitting to His Lordship, will come to Him. This fellowship --koinonia--is the object sought, while redemption through the blood of Christ is the means of obtaining it.
If doctrine is taken as the center it becomes the cause of divisions, because it makes one prone to judge another's faith by one's own understanding. God gave His Son on the Cross, not to make His redemption--or the understanding of it--a condition of salvation, but that it might be the basis of the salvation, which is living fellowship with Himself. The Lord Jesus shed His blood no to raise a barrier to fellowship with God, but to open the way to that fellowship.
Now, if the fundamental doctrine of Redemption should not be put at the center of the Christian faith, how much less all the other theological issues. It is not that these doctrines are unimportant. Quite the contrary. It is a matter of misuse. Indeed, if doctrines were not so misused almost all the causes of division and sectarianism would be eliminated.
The organizational churches, with their doctrines and ceremonies, may be compared to a house and its ornaments. They are useful only if they help the activities of the Spirit in the Ekklesia. But the history of Christianity is full of examples which show that they generally hinder the work of God and tend to choke the life of Christ with outward restrictions, hiding the true Ekklesia and her Head. However, if we put fellowship with God in the center, all these errors and divisions can be avoided.
Israel and Jesus Christ
In the old Testament God continually taught Israel that she should separate herself from the other nations, because she was God's peculiar treasure, chosen by Jehovah and exalted above all nations4. Therefore, not only was Israel forbidden to worship other gods and idols, but God made them a separate people by forbidding them to intermarry with other peoples, by directing them to circumcise all males and by various other social and dietary regulations.
This seems to be the strictest kind of sectarianism, and we cannot deny that a misunderstanding of this exclusivism has had much influence on Christianity. It certainly did upon the Jews before us, and Christ was decidedly against this spirit of pride in Israel.
Hear John the Baptist: "Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham" (Matt. 3:9). Upon another occasion Jesus said, "I tell you, many will come from the cast and west and sit at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into outer darkness" (Matt. 8:11, 12). Then, in John 10: 16, we hear "And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will hear my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd."
It is clear from these and other statements that Christ hated the sectarian spirit and national pride. The separation of Israel from other nations did not mean that they should boast themselves above others, but that they should come nearer to God and be taught how they should live before Him without being polluted by the spirit of the surrounding world. The purpose in this was not that they might glory in their national existence and disdain others, but that In their blessings--as an example--they might point all other nations to the one true and living God.
Jesus very often condemned the Pharisees in severe words. But in no case did He blame them because they belonged to the sect of Pharisees, but because of their formalities and legalism. He did not hesitate to have a friendly talk with Nicodemus or to dine and talk with Simon and other Pharisees. He condemned them, not because they belonged to the sect of the Pharisees, but because they prided themselves on having all the truth of God exclusively. It was sectarianism which Jesus hated. The issue was whether they were faithful and sincere, not whether they belonged to the sect of the Pharisees.
Jesus warned His disciples against having this sectarian spirit. In Luke 9:49, 50, John said, "Master we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us." But Jesus said to him, "Do not forbid him, for he that is not against you is for you." John wanted the disciples to monopolize the truth among themselves and exclude all those who did not belong to his group. This sectarianism which Jesus condemned, is the spirit which dominated the Roman Church and was inherited by the Protestants.
Jesus insisted that men have faith in Him, love Him and have koinonia with Him: "He who is not with me is against me; and he that does not gather with me scatters . . . I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me." In such statements as these, Jesus made it clear that He is the sole and perfect means of salvation, and except through Him there is no salvation (compare Acts 4:12).
But this attitude of Jesus cannot be called a sectarian attitude. He was making the essential distinction between those who were God's and those who were not, not a sectarian distinction among those who were God's. Sectarians are those who would make fellowship with Christ their exclusive privilege. They are not satisfied with belonging to Jesus, they would make Jesus belong to them.
Jesus condemned the Pharisees not because they did not belong to His group, but because of their hypocrisy, untruthfulness and lack of love. He wanted all men to come to Him and have koinonia with Him, but He did not intend that those did come Him should have any exclusive group around Him. He chose twelve disciples to preach the Kingdom of God, not to create a sect.
He never flattered people in power, such as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, enticing them to join His group and help Him If He had compromised with the Pharisees, He could probably have obtained worldly influence easily. The fact that He never did such things was not simply that He wanted to make his followers honest and sincere, but also because He was communicating Life, and building a kingdom not of this world or according to its principles.
Jesus had thought of creating an organization or formal group around Himself, nor did he teach disciples to form any such organized group. Everything was dependent on the Spirit's uniting men to God through their faith. How different Jesus was from those sectarians who, like the Scribes and Pharisees, search sea and land to make a member of their group, only to make him twice as much the child of Hell as themselves (Matt. 23:25).
All that Christ wanted was faith in Himself. He had no interest in any institutional organization with worldly offices and laws. Neither did He give any dogmas or creeds which may be used to distinguish believers from non-believers. When He praised the faith of people, it was not because of their orthodox theology, or the fact that they belonged to some organization, but on account of their simple faith in His person.
Such simple faith in the person of Jesus Christ Himself, apart from any doctrinal instruction or theological understanding, is exemplified by the centurion of Capernaum, the woman having an issue of blood, one of the ten lepers of Samaria, the blind beggar of Jericho and the woman of Canaan5. Jesus wants us to have this same simple faith in Him. This faith, with its resultant life in the Spirit, forms the vital link with God and one in itself constitutes the Body of Christ.
4See Exodus 19:5,6; Deut. 4:20; 9:29; 14:2; 26: 19.
5Luke 7:9; 8:48; 17:19; Matt. 15:28.